Sunday, June 14, 2015

Flag Day

On this Flag Day, we’d like to highlight a flag in our collection that was used for a very special purpose during World War II. American air crew members who flew missions over foreign countries often carried small pieces of fabric known as “blood chits”. They identified the service member as a friendly soldier or airman and were meant to be given to local civilians in the event of a bail out or forced landing. Blood chits carried messages asking locals to help the downed service member return to friendly lines and often promised a reward for doing so.

Blood chit carried by Lieutenant William L. Mullin, USNR
Gift to the Naval War College Foundation by Mrs. Marcia Mullin

This is an example of a blood chit carried by air crews who flew in the China-Burma-India theater. It belonged to Lieutenant William L. Mullin, USNR, who served as an Air Combat Intelligence Officer on the staff of Commander, Aircraft, Seventh Fleet, and performed temporary duty with Patrol Bombing Squadron 33. The translations are in Burmese, Thai, Chinese, Kachin, Libu, and Urdu. They read, “This foreign person (American) has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue, protect, and provide him with medical care.” Each chit also had a serial number that could be used to identify the individual who carried it.

A Chinese soldier points to the blood chit on the back of this American pilot’s jacket

The first Americans to use blood chits were the Flying Tigers of the 1st American Volunteer Group which began operating in China soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Initially they sewed the chits to the backs of their jackets and identified themselves as Allied airmen by displaying both the American and Nationalist Chinese flags. China was in the middle of a civil war at the same time it was fighting the Japanese, however, and some areas of the country were ruled by Communist forces. The Flying Tigers soon realized that the Nationalist flag would not be a welcome sight if they had to bail out over Communist territory, so they began sewing the flags to the insides of their jackets or carrying them in their pockets instead.

Blood chits were simple, effective tools for helping downed airmen reach friendly lines. They proved to be quite popular with American air crews, and the U.S. military eventually used them in all theaters of the war.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

On This Day in History: Secretary of the Navy Orders Construction of Naval Torpedo Station

Illustration of Naval Torpedo Station, 1876

On this day in 1869, Secretary of the Navy Adolph E. Borie ordered the construction of the Naval Torpedo Station (NTS) on Goat Island in Newport. The NTS was the first U.S. Navy installation dedicated to manufacturing torpedoes, experimenting with new designs, and instructing personnel in their use. It provided the bulk of the Navy’s torpedoes through two world wars and operated continuously until closing in 1951, although its research and development activities continue today at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center.

During the Civil War, twenty-eight ships sank from contacting torpedoes. These weapons fell into two categories: stationary floating torpedoes (mines in today’s parlance) and spar torpedoes. The latter consisted of an explosive charge secured to the end of a long pole that jutted out over the bow of the vessel that carried it. The attacker had to ram the torpedo into the side of an enemy ship and then manually detonate the explosive with a trigger mechanism. While effective if properly delivered, they required the crew to expose themselves to enemy fire as well as the explosive force of the torpedo itself.

Fish torpedo (above) and Howell torpedo (below)

The Navy established the NTS to develop new torpedoes that were both more deadly and put the operator at less risk. Much of the early work at the NTS built upon the success of a British designer named Robert Whitehead who, in 1866, produced the world’s first “automobile torpedo.” Whitehead’s design could be launched from a ship and carried an eighteen pound charge for 700 yards at six knots. By 1871, the NTS debuted an improved version of the Whitehead torpedo known as the Fish. Another design known as the Howell torpedo became the first self-propelled weapon issued to the U.S. Navy in 1889.

Initially, NTS designers worked on both automobile torpedoes and mines. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took over responsibility for mines between 1871 and the start of World War I as part of their mission to provide for the fixed defenses of America’s harbors. This left NTS free to concentrate on self-propelled designs at a time when the Navy was undergoing the most radical transformation in its history. The old wooden warships of the Civil War navy were gradually being replaced by new steel ships that carried their guns in turrets and could operate under steam or sail. While rifled guns still ruled the day in battle, improvements in torpedo design made them a greater threat to capital ships. They became especially dangerous when they were mounted on small, fast-moving vessels called torpedo boats that could dart in close to launch their weapons and moved too quickly to be targeted by the guns of their quarry.

Drawing by J.O. Davidson, 1888
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper
January 26, 1889

During the early years of its existence, students at the Naval War College spent a great deal of time studying the question of how best to employ torpedoes. When a reporter from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper visited the school in 1888, he noted that the classes used war games to try to predict the impact of new technology on naval tactics and strategy:

“While the cruisers and torpedo-boats of the new navy are developing at the ship-yards, the officers who are to manoeuvre these engines of modern warfare in the future are equipping themselves with practical experiments, and seeing service by means of imaginary combats on the chart and blackboard.”

Future innovations such as submarines and aircraft would further disrupt conventional thinking about the best ways to use torpedoes. From 1869 to 1951, the NTS served as the premier facility for manufacturing and experimenting with these weapons.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Sunday, May 24, 2015

On This Day in History: The Convoy System

Naval History and Heritage Command photograph
Courtesy of Paul Silverstone, 1982
The first transatlantic convoy to reach Great Britain departed Hampton Roads, Virginia, on this day in 1917. The United States had entered World War I the previous month and now faced the challenge of how to get men and material safely to the European theater. Germany’s u-boats had been operating in the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean since the early days of the war and made any voyage a risky proposition. They were so effective that by April 1916, the British were rationing food to civilians and had only a six weeks’ supply of wheat left in reserve.

One reason the u-boats were initially so successful was that for the first three years of the war, merchant ships sailed individually with no warships escorting them. Great Britain’s Admiralty felt that grouping ships together in convoys only presented a larger target to prowling submarines, and that the chances for detection were much less if the ships spread out and made their own way across the ocean. Inevitably, the u-boats would find some of them and sink them, but the Admiralty assumed that this method would minimize losses.

Vice Admiral William Sims, former President of the Naval War College and commander of all U.S. naval forces in Europe, disagreed. In his meetings with First Sea Lord Sir John Jellicoe, he pressed the Royal Navy to adopt the convoy system. April 1917 had seen the highest shipping losses of any month so far during the war: 373 ships from Allied and neutral countries weighing 873,754 tons. By May, Jellicoe was ready to authorize convoys as long as the U.S. promised to provide some of the escorts. The first convoy left Gibraltar on May 10 with seventeen ships and two escorts, arriving safely in Great Britain twelve days later. The second left from Hampton Roads on May 24 escorted by HMS Roxburgh and lost only one ship to u-boat attack.

Naval History and Heritage Command photograph
The Americans borrowed some tricks from their British counterparts to further frustrate the efforts of the u-boat captains. One of these was a unique camouflage scheme known as dazzle. In order to make a successful torpedo attack, u-boats had to observe a target for an extended length of time and correctly estimate its size, range, speed, and heading. Unlike other camouflage schemes, dazzle did nothing to prevent a ship from being detected. Instead, the jarring patterns of lines, curves, and stripes broke up the ship’s outline and made it very difficult for an observer to determine at what angle he was viewing the target.

WWI Victory Loan Drive Poster, 1918
Leon Alaric Shafer (1866-1940)
Library of Congress
It remains difficult to say whether or not dazzle actually worked better than other camouflage schemes. Of the convoy system, however, there can be no doubt that it greatly contributed to the Allied war effort by ensuring the safe passage of thousands of merchantmen and troop ships. Karl Doenitz, the man who would go on to lead Germany’s u-boat campaign during the Second World War, said of the introduction of the convoy system:

The oceans at once became bare and empty. For long periods at a time, the U-boats, operating individually, would see nothing at all; and then suddenly up would loom a huge concourse of ships, thirty or fifty or more of them, surrounded by a strong escort of warships of all types. The solitary U-boat, which most probably had sighted the convoy purely by chance, would then attack, thrusting again and again ... for perhaps several days and nights until the physical exhaustion of the command and crew called a halt. The lone U-boat might well sink one or two ships, or even several, but that was a poor percentage of the whole. The convoy would steam on. In most cases, no other German U-boat would catch sight of it and it would reach Britain, bringing a rich cargo of foodstuffs and raw materials safely to port.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Friday, May 22, 2015

Memorial Day

Patriots Memorial is dedicated to the memory of the eleven students and alumni who lost their lives in the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. The plaque is mounted on a piece of Indiana limestone that was recovered from the Pentagon’s west fa├žade. It reads:

In Memory of Naval War College Students and Alumni Who Gave Their Lives While Serving the Nation
CAPT Gerald F. DeConto, USN
LCDR Robert R. Elseth, USNR
CAPT Lawrence D. Getzfred, USN
Ms. Angela M. Houtz, DON
LCDR Patrick J. Murphy, USNR
LT Jonas M. Panik, USNR
CAPT Jack D. Punches, USN (Ret.)
CDR Robert A. Schlegel, USN
CDR Dan F. Shanower, USN
MAJ Kip P. Taylor, USA
CAPT John D. Yamnicky, Sr., USN (Ret.)

The Pentagon, Washington D.C.
September 11, 2001

Major Taylor was posthumously promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

As we head in to Memorial Day Weekend, we take a moment to recognize all the Naval War College graduates who have given their lives in service to their country.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Friday, May 8, 2015

On This Day in History: V-E Day

Newport Navalog, Vol. 45, No. 19, p.1
Naval Historical Collection
Newspaper Collection 9, Box 10

Today marks the seventieth anniversary of Germany’s surrender to the Allies during World War II. Like most places in the United States, the celebration at Newport Naval Training Station was muted. The Newport Navalog described the moment when the news broke as one of “qualified happiness,” tempered by the understanding that the war with Japan was still far from over. The commanding officer of the Training Station, Commodore Clinton E. Braine, encouraged base personnel to attend worship services, but in all other respects, normal work routines continued. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest J. King emphasized that now was not the time to pause and celebrate, but rather to redouble the nation’s efforts to defeat Japan and end the war for good. King had already stated that the Navy would not demobilize following Germany’s surrender, and that personnel stationed in Europe would be transferred to the Pacific after V-E Day (Victory in Europe).

Newport Navalog, Vol. 45, No. 19, p.8
Naval Historical Collection
Newspaper Collection 9, Box 10

Looking back on this time from the safe distance of 70 years, it can be hard to fully understand the sense of dread that many sailors felt at the prospect of transferring to the Pacific theater. The war would actually end in just three more months, but of course nobody knew that in May 1945. High level planners assumed that the Allies would have to invade the Japanese mainland in order to force a surrender. The Joint Chiefs of Staff estimated that American forces would suffer 1.2 million casualties conducting such an operation. The expectation that the most difficult fighting of the war still lay ahead made for very muted celebrations indeed when newspapers announced that Germany had been defeated.

Newport Navalog articles courtesy of the Naval Historical Collection

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

8 Bells Lecture Series - May and June Lectures

The format of the Eight Bells Lecture Series has the author speaking about 40-45 minutes on the topic of his book and the facts leading to its publication. The last 15-20 minutes are given over for audience members to ask questions on the topic.  Those who are able to remain after the allotted hour can stay and discuss the book further and have the book signed. Copies of the books will be on sale in the Naval War College Foundation Store. As always, this event is a brown-bag affair which h is free and open to the public.  Call 401-841-4052 for more information. 

7 May 2015: The Purge of the Thirtieth Division by Maj. Gen. Henry Dozier Russell; edited and presented by Lawrence Kaplan 
In the lead-up to World War II, eighteen National Guard division commanders were called upon to train and lead 300,000 men.  By the end of the war, all but one had been relieved in a systematic policy by senior, regular Army officers to replace Guardsmen with regular officers.  The book offers a unique historical insight into the mobilization and offers a scathing indictment of the senior war planners during the war, including the Army Chief of Staff, George Marshall.

14 May 2015: Eugene Ely, Daredevil Aviator: First Shipboard Landing and Takeoff by William M. Miller 
This is a biography of one of the most influential, early contributor to aviation.  Eugene Ely taught himself to fly and by 1910 was a member of the Curtiss Exhibition Team.  It was that year that his plane was lifted onto USS Birmingham an he made the first takeoff from the deck of a naval vessel.  Two months later, on 18 January 1911, he made the first aircraft landing on the USS Pennsylvania.  A short while later he took off from that same deck, proving the adaptability of airplanes to operations at sea. 

21 May 2015: The Baltimore Sabotage Cell by Dwight Messimer   
The Imperial German Navy lacked the means to cut the British supply line with the United States.  One option was to build more U-boats.  The other option to stop the flow of goods was to attack the sources of the manufactured goods by sabotaging munitions factories, depots, and shipping.   There were over fifty successful acts of sabotage on the East Coast prior to April 1917.  Baltimore was the key city to their plan.

4 June 2015: A Handful of Bullets by Harlan Ullman 
The author traces several contemporary crises back to the legacy of the First World War which began as a result of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.  Offering provocative challenges to modern, conventional wisdom, he argues that the United States needs to strategically address these twenty-first-century realities.

11 June 2015: South Pacific Cauldron by Alan Rems 
Alan Rems takes the reader into the unsung regions of World War II.  Through his in-depth research, he presents the stories of Japanese and allied personnel in struggles no less brutal than the much heralded battlefields of Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima.  Photographs and maps enhance the telling of these stories.

John Kennedy
Director of Education and Community Outreach

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Honoring All Who Serve—U-853 Propellers at the Naval War College: 70th Anniversary of the Sinking of U-853

            The Naval War College has placed on display the propellers from the World War German submarine U-853, which was sunk in action off Block Island on 5 May 1945.  At that point the war in Europe was nearing its end and all German submarines had been ordered to cease hostilities and ordered to return to their bases, with the formal surrender scheduled for 8 May 1945.  Until that time, however, U.S. naval forces remained on alert for possible U-boat activity as intelligence sources indicated the presence of submarines in the local vicinity that may or may not have received their orders.
            Their vigilance was rewarded on 5 May, two days before the cessation of hostilities in the Atlantic, when a collier, MV Black Point, was torpedoed.  Coast Guard and naval vessels in the area quickly realized what had happened and knew that they had an active, accurate datum based upon the billowing smoke from the sinking Black Point.  What followed was a short and violent prosecution of the submarine.  The end came off the coast of Block Island as verified by the oil and debris which floated to the surface.  Later findings would verify the submarine to be U-853, a Type IXC/40 long-range submarine.

            As the United States and Germany are among the nations who recognize that sunken military wrecks with military personnel entombed as war graves, the story might have ended there.  Unfortunately, salvage companies and recreational scuba divers did not subscribe to the same belief and, over time, looted the submarine, taking various items as souvenirs.  Two such items taken were the bronze propellers.  Over time, the propellers ended up at Newport’s Castle Hill Inn where they remained for over fifty years shrouded by local myths.
            In 2005, the German Government took the initiative by donating the propellers to the United States Navy for display on the grounds of the Naval War College. The Newport Harbor Corporation relinquished “all claims of ownership, or any other title or interest, in the two propellers.” The gift was formally accepted by the United States Navy in September 2005 with the intent that the Naval War College would display them as a part of a dignified exhibit recounting the shared naval history of the Germany and the United States.
            The project has come to fruition through the support of the Naval War College Foundation with the assistance of William Obenshain, and the generosity of the Tawani Foundation of Chicago .  The permanent display has been installed just north of the USS Constellation’s anchor, which is the centerpiece of the plaza dedicated to Esau Kempenaar for his long-term service in the cause of international friendship and his association with the foreign officers of the Naval Command College. 
            As Abraham Lincoln noted, “Honor to the Soldier, and Sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause.”  The Naval War College also recognizes that there is a mutual bond between all who sail in harm’s way at sea. 

John Kennedy
Director of Education and Community Outreach